ATLANTA – There are players competing in this week’s season-ending Tour Championship brandishing thick, bushy playoff beards now a month in the making. Jordan Spieth isn’t one of ‘em. He showed up to East Lake Golf Club on Tuesday with nary a whisker on his chin, but contends that’s due to a recent shave, not because he couldn’t grow a little facial hair.
Hey, it’s worth asking the question.
Just 20, Spieth isn’t only the youngest player in this week’s field, he’s the youngest player to ever reach this tournament. It’s just another in a long line of age-related superlatives he’s achieved this season. He became the youngest player to win a PGA Tour event in 82 years, claiming the John Deere Classic title. He’s the youngest to ever eclipse the $3 million barrier for a single season. And he’ll be the youngest to compete in the Presidents Cup when he tees it up for the United States two weeks from now.
“It's been an incredible year,” he says without overstatement. “I played the Thursday qualifier to get into the Monday qualifier for San Diego this year, which was my first professional round that I ever played. So that's an interesting route when I think back on it, but if I start really dwelling on the year, then I think I lose focus on the present in the tournament and especially in the Presidents Cup. I don't want to do that at this time.”
Spieth’s story is already the stuff of legend.
He entered the year with no status on any PGA Tour-sanctioned circuit. He gained entry into a few events, played well enough to earn special temporary membership, then won to become a full-fledged member – and the rest, as they say, is history.
“It turned out better than I could have expected,” he explains. “With the win, I have job security for a couple of years, and I guess moving up the world ranking. That was my goal to start the year, and I guess my goals got adjusted at certain times, maybe after Tampa and then after the John Deere, a couple different scenarios where there was another thing I was shooting for.”
Now he finds himself in 13th place on the FedEx Cup standings, with a legitimate chance of claiming the $10 million first-place prize at week’s end. Not bad for a kid who, if he’d remained an amateur, would be in his first semester at the University of Texas right now.
Even so, read between the lines and Spieth believes he should be even higher in those standings.
“I moved from eighth to 13th by getting ninth, fourth, and then 15th place,” he says of his results in the first three playoff events. “So it's interesting. I mean, it just proves you've got to get top three to move up anything at all.”
Call it part of the learning curve for Spieth, who hasn’t struggled much with that part of Tour life this year.
Perhaps the only trait more impressive than his ball-striking and putting under pressure is his maturity. His birth certificate says he’s 20, but he’s wise beyond his years, looking eminently comfortable around players twice his age, players whom he grew up watching on television.
“I've definitely developed maturity this year on course, no doubt about it, in different decision making,” he says. “I've had to kind of step back. I've said it before, my 16-year-old self would be pretty upset at some of the decisions I've made that have actually paid off this year.”
Zach Johnson, last week’s winner of the BMW Championship, lost to Spieth in a three-man playoff at the John Deere earlier this summer. When asked whether he’s competed with him, Johnson deadpans, “I played five holes with him in a playoff. I'd like to forget that one.”
When he speaks more seriously, Spieth’s maturity level is the first thing he mentions.
“Maturity just comes about. That's the word that comes to my mind, both on and off the golf course,” Johnson says. “I know he's 20, and I'm sure there's things that he's doing that I was doing when I was 20, but his game is mature. It seems to me like his mental approach and how he plays is extremely mature and just very well constructed.”
Spieth will add to that ever-increasing list of remarkable feats at a young age by competing in the Tour Championship before he can legally purchase an alcoholic beverage. It may sound impressive, but not as impressive as his mentality going in, which shows – you got it – even more maturity.
“I didn't think it would be a possibility this year at the beginning of the year,” he admits, “but now that I'm here, it's time to maybe dig in and make something special happen.”
He’ll do so without a ripe playoff beard, which he playfully contends would grow if he tried. It’s tough to believe the baby-faced 20-year-old, but then again, he’s accomplished just about everything else he’s attempted already this year.